Battle lines drawn over new legislative districts

May 24, 2011 3:25:02 PM PDT
The first step was taken Tuesday in the Illinois House to redraw the state's legislative districts.

A House committee approved the new maps, but not without opposition.

The once-every-10-years redistricting process is the most unabashed, partisan activity undertaking by politicians in the state capitol, and the 2011 version happening right now during the final week of regular session is no exception.

The Democratic House and Senate lawmakers assigned to lead the process promised there would be no final vote on the map until next Tuesday, the last day of this year's regular session.

"We will keep that commitment. So today, there will be no votes on this proposal," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, (D) Chicago.

Illinois Democrats, who control the governor's office as well as the General Assembly, will not need Republican input on where legislative boundaries are drawn for the next 10 years. Their proposed maps locate as many as two dozen incumbent Republican lawmakers into the same districts, forcing them to run against each other.

And, in other cases, they dilute Republican voter strongholds by splitting them into smaller clusters.

"I think it is a fair, competitive map that effectively meets the responsibilities of mapmakers," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, (D) Chicago.

"The simple fact is the map that is the subject of the hearing today was drawn behind closed doors by the Democrat leaders with input from select interest groups," said Sen. Dale Righter, (R) Charleston.

Republicans aren't the only group opposed to the Democratic map.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Foundation allege the Democrats did not create enough majority Latino districts and that the information's late release does not leave enough time for analysis.

"We would have appreciated more time to go deeper on these plans," said MALDEF's Nina Perales.

The Democrats still have not released the congressional map on which the state will lose one of its 19 seats in Congress because of population decline.

Republicans say if the proposed Democratic map is passed, they are likely to file a lawsuit based on the federal voter rights act.

"Clearly, the map that's been presented by the House and Senate Democrats is not constitutional," said Righter.

"I think this is the most transparent redistricting process ever in the history of the State of Illinois," said Brown.

If that is congressional map is released as late as Friday it would leave only the long holiday weekend for it to be considered before that predicted final vote would happen next Tuesday on May 31. It's important that the Democrats have that vote on May 31 because by then they only need a simple majority. Anything after the 31st, they would need a supermajority.

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